Farm to Town, Life Retold

By Kriss Nelson

There is something for everyone to enjoy at Clarion’s hidden gem, the Heartland Museum, from tractors and buggies to exploring streetscapes of yesteryear.

Agriculture is the foundation of Iowa. The Heartland Museum in Clarion prioritizes preserving the history of farming, the local history of the city of Clarion, Wright County, and more.

Five groups collaborated to establish the Heartland Museum in 1999, each with a vision to preserve and honor their heritage.

“Without their vision, the museum would not be here today,” says Melody Lager, president of the board of directors for the Heartland Museum.

A Step Back in Time

The museum expects nearly 1,600 visitors this season. They will step back in time to explore street scenes from the Victorian Era, 1930s and 1950s. As the museum website suggests, it is “farm to town, life retold.”

Returning to the Victorian Era, visitors will view period-specific exhibits featuring a hotel, a barber shop, a men’s wear store and a general store. The exhibit includes a millinery shop and hat parlor showcasing part of the Iowa Hat Lady’s collection.

A Depression Kitchen, featuring an iceless ice box and a library designed in the Frank Lloyd Wright style, represents items from the 1930s.

A “Welcome to Clarion” marquee sign with the original Clarion theater ticket window sits across the street from a soda fountain, kitchen, fire department and garage, among the displays along the 1950s streetscape.

New this year, visitors can scan a QR code leading them to a story of five women who helped settle Wright County.

A History of Horsepower

The Heartland Museum is home to nearly 150 antique tractors between Agriculture Hall and the Big Red Shed. 

The tractors on display feature an impressive collection from Clarion resident Larry Maasdam. Horse-drawn sleighs and buggies round out the display of early settlers. There is also a large display of neon clocks and signs, and more than 3,000 toy tractors are displayed on the balcony.

The Teddy Bear Museum

The Teddy Bear Museum features versions of the beloved childhood toy from around the world, including those by Steve Schutt, a Clarion native and nationally recognized teddy bear artist.

Schutt brought the Teddy Bear Reunion to Clarion, which attracted thousands of people.

Besides Schutt’s collection, you may reminisce about your childhood while learning about the teddy bear’s history, seeing prototypes for the Smithsonian Exhibit and more. 

Alvina’s Hat Parlor and Millinery Shop

Alvina Sellers from Clarion earned the nickname “Iowa Hat Lady” due to her collection of 6,000 hats. The Heartland Museum displays over 300 of Sellers’ hats and clothing items. Visitors can learn more about Sellers and the stories she shared during the more than 5,000 programs she presented and view a recording of her appearance on David Letterman. 

Duty and Honor

The museum’s Duty and Honor exhibit features the branches of the U.S. military, collections from local veterans and a scaled-down version of the U.S.S. Iowa. 

Birthplace of the 4-H Emblem

Down the street from the Heartland Museum’s main building is an early 1900s rural schoolhouse, known as the Birthplace of the 4-H Emblem.

The schoolhouse has been restored to its closest original condition. This is a tribute to the memory of O.H. Benson, the creator of the 4-H emblem. The schoolhouse features desks and various 4-H memorabilia, including uniforms and record books.

Something for Everyone

Although the museum showcases the history of Wright County’s development, there is something for both children and adults to enjoy, regardless of whether they are from the area.

“It could be a memory from grandma’s kitchen or the scavenger hunt made just for kids. We have something for everyone,” says Lager.

The Heartland Museum is open now through Aug. 31, Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with the last admission at 2 p.m. and Monday and Tuesday by appointment. You can make appointments by calling 515-602-6000.